Online porn abuse rife in public sector

The Audit Commission has warned of a steep rise in cases of public sector workers accessing inappropriate material such as pornography

A culture of complacency is being blamed for a significant rise in the number of public sector staff caught accessing pornography on computers at work, according to a new report by public spending watchdog the Audit Commission.

The survey of 400 public sector organisations, including local authorities, NHS trusts and police forces, found a 16 percent rise in cases of staff accessing pornography or other inappropriate material, which now accounts for almost half (47 per cent) of all incidents of computer misuse and fraud in the workplace.

Financial loss from IT-related fraud in the public sector is also up eight per cent since the last survey three years ago but there has been a significant drop in incidents of business disruption due to virus or hack attacks.

Virus infections, denial of service and hack attacks have almost halved from 39 per cent of all public sector computer misuse incidents in the last survey to just 20 per cent this time round.

But there were exceptions to this with one university telling the Audit Commission it suffered 1,600 virus attacks in the past year.

The Audit Commission acknowledges improvements in preventative measures public sector organisations have taken to secure their systems, but also warns that evolving technology such as wireless networking and identity theft will remain significant threats over coming years.

The report said: "Public services hold much personal information about citizens and the risk of criminal attention being focused upon these personal data stores is becoming acute. The next few years may well see an increase in blanket identity theft across public bodies."

Steve Bundred, CEO of the Audit Commission, warned against complacency. "ICT security is only as effective as the staff within the organisation, and too often we are finding that staff are unsure of their role. If we fail to get this right we risk eroding the confidence of citizens in the electronic systems that underpin public services," he said in a statement.